Your money is like anything else important in your life. It takes time and effort to make it do what you want. But our world makes it easy to ignore your money for a very long time until, finally, you simply can’t ignore it any longer.
Saturday, I spent a few hours with my book at a book fair showcasing local authors. It’s always interesting to talk about money with total strangers. I usually learn something about human nature and the financial predicament of too many Americans.
One woman stood out to me. She told me she really needed a book like mine, but she knew she would never read it if she took it home. She said she was 47, and only had $16,000 in retirement savings. She probably was right on both counts.
She is not unusual. Only a little more than a third of Americans have ever even attempted to figure out how much money they will need in retirement. Those who do are far more likely to build enough savings to at least be comfortable when they can no longer work for pay. Like any problem, if you understand it, you are much more likely to be able to solve it.
But money is easy to ignore. You can buy just about anything, anywhere without cash. Some stores don’t even want to take it anymore. You can travel the world on a credit card, send your children to school with student loans, and buy a house with no money down.
When you pay with a credit card, it doesn’t feel like you are spending money, and it’s harder to keep track of what you do spend. Before you even realize it you’ve spent your future income well before it arrives. Eventually, debt payments crowd out other things you can do with your money, and you have no other choice but to finally give your money the attention it deserves.
One friend said to me, “It’s like exercising. You don’t really want to, but you have to if you want to stay in shape.” If you want to stay in financial shape you have to pay attention to your money.
Start by planning how you will spend your money. Rather than waiting until the end of the month to see what you have left, start at the beginning of the month and plan what you will have left.
Create financial goals. Contrary to their name, they are not about money, but instead, what you will do with the money. What do you want to do with your money? Three financials goals everyone should have are:
- Protect yourself from financial setbacks
- Support yourself when you can no longer work for pay
- Take care of your family if you die or cannot speak for yourself
These types of goals can inspire you, because you make them about things you care about. Once you have your goals in mind, you can introduce money as a way to measure whether you are meeting your goals. For example, you can protect yourself from a financial set-back if you have a few months worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund.
Start small. Anything and everything you do is worthwhile and will make a difference in the end. You can do more as you get the hang of paying attention to your money and your situation improves.
Don’t let a setback keep you from moving forward. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. If you have goals and a plan you are much farther ahead than if you only have a hope and a dream.
You have to pay attention to your money the way you pay attention to your career, your family and anything else you care about. Without care and feeding, your finances will whither and die like the houseplant you forgot to water. No one else will take care of it for you. You have to take care of it yourself.
For a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to building your own financial plan, pick up my book, Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security. It is now available on Amazon.